When talking about photography, English doesn’t cut it. As it turns out, Japanese does.

The Japanese have a word for everything, I think. I just learned “Komorebi. It means sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees,” and by extension, the natural filtering of light through anything.


It’s just the word I’ve needed. I’ve been chasing that light for more than 40 years.

A golden tree and the rays of sunlight

Bokeh is my previously learned favorite Japanese photographic term. It defines something difficult to say in English: “Bokeh means the aesthetic quality of blur in the out-of-focus areas of an image produced by a lens.”

Like this?

Dry weeds by the river

Or that?


I’m sure there’s more, but this is my vocabulary lesson for the day.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


    1. Because it takes a lot of words in English, and it’s still imprecise. But it needs only one word in Japanese — and it means exactly that specific thing.

      For example, English (like German) is a very good technical language. Hebrew, on the other hand, is poetical and conceptual. When I lived in Israel, all tech writing was done in English. They didn’t even have the words to describe computers accurately. By now, they’ve probably invented them or just adopted the English words.

      Japanese has wonderful language for visual concepts. Bokeh replaces almost 20 words and says more in one word that all those English words strung together.

      I sometimes forget that not every has lived in a multi-lingual world. Even if, like me, you aren’t good with languages, you learn to use words from whichever language works best. English solves its problem by adopting appropriate foreign words.

      We aren’t snobby about our language, at least not here in the US. Can’t speak for other English-speaking countries. Bokeh for example, is already in common use among photographers. I think it took about 1 nanosecond to gain acceptance.

      Komorebi should be next.


      1. I actually didn’t get this whole reply last night (stupid phone), just the first sentence. That also shows you how tired I was. hahahaha! Having never left the states, you’re right in that I’ve never lived in a multilingual society.

        However, I’ve often had friends from other countries and found myself surrounded by speakers of other languages. I like learning about different languages and cultures. This is a big, wide world with a lot of languages, and they are all pretty fascinating. If I were more ambitious, I’da studied Linguistics as a major rather than a emphasis. 🙂

        However, I understand the idea of there not being a word to describe a concept. I thought it was funny as hell when my friends talked to each other in their own language and all of a sudden there’s an English word thrown in. McDonald’s computer printer okay let’s go.


        1. Languages evolve differently according to where and who — the Inuit, unsurprisingly, have a lot of words for snow. Japanese has a lot of words to describe visual stuff — I have no idea why. When you are around people who speak other languages, you tend to pick up useful expressions. There’s a word used in Hebrew which is actually Dutch — meerpesset — meaning a little balcony off the kitchen that’s kind basically a room missing a wall. Usually used for hanging laundry or storage. There was no way to say it in Hebrew without using a LOT of words (and these little balconies are ubiquitous), so they borrowed the Dutch word. Then there’s the (originally) German “davka” which means “doesn’t it just figure” or “the fates being contrary” … a word so convenient everyone uses it. I’m all for using whatever word says it best 🙂


  1. Beautiful Granddaughter, looking more like her her awesome Grandmother.
    I recall after the troops came home from Vietnam our language was filled with Vietnamese words.


    1. My husband still understands some Vietnamese. Very basic stuff. Our language is full of other languages because we are very practical and adopt the words that are useful. Other languages are more stubborn about language purity and feel they need to reinvent the wheel 🙂


  2. Beautiful Japanese words and their meanings, Marilyn – made me think. And what a stunning photo of your granddaughter: she’s absolutely lovely. xxx


    1. Yes, Kaity is a beauty. So far, it’s just given her a lot of headaches and definitely skewed her view of the world. Beauty is not necessarily easy to live with, it turns out. Who knew? I might have been beautiful — no one ever thought so, including me — but I was such a geek it didn’t matter 🙂


  3. I enjoyed your vocabulary words for the day. Beautiful photography.

    I adore the languages like Japanese and Mandarin (Chinese). There words are all about pictures and stories. A different approach than what we have. It’s beautiful.


    1. Bokeh, for example … it’s one of those things that’s important in photography — but there really isn’t a proper way to say it in English. VERY glad to get a word that says exactly what I mean in two clean syllables 🙂


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